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Classic car shop's new owner is a hybrid of hot rods, high-tech

Chris Grasser knows a lot about revving up hot rods and restoring classic cars, and that was before the owner of HMS Customs in Poulsbo went to college to get a degree with a dual major.He didn’t need a college degree in hot rods, but Chris Grasser went off to school anyway.

Grasser, new owner of the HMS Customs hot rod and classic car shop that’s been in Poulsbo a dozen years, said there’s a simple reason he enrolled at Minnesota State University, Mankato: “It has the only accredited Bachelor of Science degree for automotive engineering.” (Actually, one other accredited school shows up in an online search, but it’s even farther away in Michigan.)

Grasser, who lives on Bainbridge Island, worked as a carpenter before going to college to make a career change. He graduated with a dual degree from Mankato, also completing the program for manufacturing engineering technology.

He and a couple partners bought the business from Howard Stump, a longtime hot rod guru who was ready for somebody else to take over his car shop and thought Grasser had the right stuff.

They got to know each other a couple years ago when Grasser was restoring an old Mustang, and discussed a possible deal.

“I always wanted my own speed shop,” said Grasser, a 35-year-old who’s had a jones for customized hot rods “ever since my first Matchbox car.”

A 1967 Chevelle and a 1947 Ford convertible are two of the classic cars Chris Grasser is working on at HMS Customs in Poulsbo.They worked together in the HMS operation for a year, giving the newcomer a chance to get to know Stump’s customers, then Grasser bought him out. He moved the business in December to a new location in the North Kitsap Business Park.

“The majority of people we get for clients are old-school hot rodders, who know exactly what they want,” even if they no longer have the zeal for working on their own cars, he said.

One such car in his shop is a 1947 Ford convertible, glossy black with lots of chrome up front, that belongs to Leroy Silva, a member of the Old Timers vintage car club in Bremerton.

“Chris is really knowledgeable about everything he does,” said Silva, who may bring his 1959 T-bird to HMS Customs for a drivetrain upgrade.

Grasser’s capability to restore and rev up classic cars is complemented by the skills and knowledge about modern engines and manufacturing that he brings from his college courses.

“I see what he does with real high-tech stuff, and he’s a real good fabricator,” Silva said.

Stump has been similarly impressed.

“He’s really gifted at the old-school stuff, because that’s a can of corn,” Stump said. “Then he goes all the way up through 4x4 stuff I’ve seen him fabricate, and of course he (knows) turbo cars, exotic german import cars.

“He’s real gifted on how to make those things run more efficiently and have more horsepower.”

Stump paid him a grease monkey’s compliment, noting that Grasser’s not like some younger, tech-savvy guys who analyze engines on computers but “don’t tend to get their hands dirty.”

Learning to work on cars was a trial-and-error process throughout his youth, Grasser said, adding that he grew up with muscle cars, “and I matured with high-tuned imports.”

One of the more interesting and extensive projects he’s working on is an overhaul of a 1966 Mustang convertible. The woman who brought it in is on her second go-round with the car, having found the guy she sold it to decades ago and bought it back from him.

All that sits in the corner of Grasser’s shop now is the red shell, which needed a lot of metal work. It will eventually be restored with a match of the car’s original interior, and be powered by a 4.6-liter supercharged V-8 engine that Grasser said will kick up about 500 horsepower.

“When she gets in, she’ll be sitting in ‘66 seats,” he said, “but when she turns the key, she’s going to be driving a 2003 Mustang Cobra.”

He enjoys talking about cars with other aficionados as much as working on them.

“One of the big things we want to be here is to be a place people can go and really spend some time talking about what they want to do with their cars,” he said.

Grasser’s got plenty of stories of his own to share in those discussions, going back to his first car, a 1977 Honda Accord.

“I’ve probably owned 30 cars in my life, and I couldn’t leave one of ‘em alone,” he said.

In addition to the HMS shop, Grasser, Isaac Weddell and Ricky Wood are partners in Hyndra Motorsports LLP. With Weddell handling administrative and marketing and Wood managing the production side, they’re developing a business line designing and engineering after-market parts and other new automotive products.

But when Grasser’s standing in his shop between that vintage ‘47 Ford and a sweet ‘67 Chevelle, it’s obvious that working on hot rods is a labor of love.

“The main focus of this place,” he said, “is keeping these pieces of history on the road.”

 
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